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Get Real About Business Card Design

Ever picked up a copy of one of those "Best of Business Card Design" books? The ones filled with glossy photos of business cards made of "special materials" using "innovative printing techniques"? While I admit it can be fun - and occasionally instructive - to peruse these award-winning business card designs, I think these books often confuse more business owners than they help. How? By fostering the notion that a business card has to be radically different, trendy and expensive to be effective. It's time to get real! "Cool" doesn't sell your product. "Trendy" doesn't pay the bills. And "Wow, what a great card!" is flattering, but hardly an income guarantee. Ever seen one of those expensive Super Bowl TV ads, where afterwards you can remember the commercial but haven’t the foggiest idea what product it was promoting? Same principle.

A business card can be a masterpiece of graphic design and do you absolutely no good as far as convincing someone you just met to give you a call, visit your website or drop by your store. The truth is that a fairly ordinary business card can be an extraordinary marketing tool, if used wisely. Now don't get me wrong - I am not advocating the use of a generic, black-text-on-white-stock, flimsy card ordered from the local quick printer, or an attractive but ad-supported "free" business card ordered online. And splurging on a custom designed business card is definitely appropriate in certain industries and certain business situations. What I'm saying is that an attractive, legible, customer-focused business card is good enough for most people in most circumstances.

Even if it’s designed on a website that offers business card templates which can be used by an unlimited number of other business owners. Even if the graphics or clipart aren’t original. Frankly, it’s more important to get a decent card circulating than it is to let customers slip by while you’re endlessly tweaking the “perfect” business card. So what is “good enough”? Your business card should be attractive. It should look professional, be of standard size and weight, use color well, catch the eye, and be different enough from your competitors to make your card stand out but not so different that you seem out of touch. Your business card should be legible. No tiny text. No crazy mish-mash of fonts. No crossed-out phone numbers or dingy food stains. Each word should be there for a reason, carefully chosen to given recipients a reason to remember you and encourage them to use your product or service.

This means that business cards should also be customer-focused. Though a business card contains your company name and contact information, its purpose is less about you than it is about showing your prospective customer that you understand their needs and that your company can meet them. A business card design that is “good enough” may look little different than those used by others in similar professions. But if it goes beyond the typical business card to include information that reassures or informs prospects (such as testimonials, store hours, special services or solutions to common problems), it will certainly out-perform a fancier but less customer-centered card. And let’s also “get real” about what a business card is, and what it can do. Yes, it’s a powerful marketing weapon. But c’mon, it’s a 2.5” by 3.25” bit of paper. No piece of paper, no matter how innovative or elegant, can override a prospects’ instinctive distaste of a salesperson who’s arrogant, uncaring, or completely clueless.

You may find that people love your card and that you just can’t seem to keep enough of them in your wallet – but if you never hear from the people you give them to, there’s something wrong. After all, there are plenty of superstar performers using bland, impersonal company-generated business cards with outstanding results. In the hands of a personable and articulate company representative who really listens to what a prospective client wants, a “good enough” business card will outperform a graphic designer’s dream card every time.


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